Four Characteristics of Startup Engineers, Product Managers and Designers

Startups are hard.  And hiring great technical staff members may be the most difficult and important challenge in a startup.

So how do we hire the right people? Start with the end in mind — i.e., have a clear definition of who you’re looking for before you begin. Most hiring managers start by trying to breakdown the technical “do-er” roles in a company (engineering, product, design) into lists of specific knowledge or behavioral requirements.  I don’t think it’s enough to just find people who can check the boxes of “knows Cocoa” or “expert with Photoshop” or “wrote Pivotal Tracker stories”.  Founders and early-stage startup team members need to have an extra dose of character because they’re not just building a product, they’re forming a culture. Here are four characteristics to look for in each technical role that has a direct hand in building a startup.

(Note: This post is a follow up and extension to with many thanks to Laura Klein and George Lee for inspiration and feedback.)


  1. Craftsman — pride and deep understanding of work
  2. Goalie — defender of the codebase, uses test-suite as a protective shield
  3. Macgyver — builds the minimum viable version quickly and then iterates forward
  4. Coach — mentors others and is coachable


Visual Designers

  1. Artist — weaves beautiful, delightful, enticing designs into and throughout a product
  2. Literalist — must get ideas/concepts down on paper or screen-pixels in order to understand and discuss them
  3. Eye of Sauron — notices 1px differences in baselines and kerning
  4. Toolmaker — creates guides, libraries, templates, etc. for other team members to follow


UX Designers

  1. Shortstop — covers all the gaps, thinks through corner cases and potential dead-ends
  2. Occam — cuts flows like a razor, down to the most simple path
  3. Empath — guided by deep caring and viscerally feeling the pain of the user problem
  4. WeebleWobble — absorbs input/feedback; bounces back from any knock, converting it into action


Product Managers

  1. Guru — customer use-case and domain expert
  2. Mad Scientist — sees the big world-altering vision, plots experiments to probe the path forward
  3. MC — confident and persuasive public presenter
  4. Logician — skillfully works the development process to deliver on-time, on-budget